ODOT: Murals must come down

Lloyd Haines must remove the murals he illegally installed on the bottom of the Lithia Way overpass by Sept. 30.

Haines had the lighted panels by four local artists installed on Sept. 5 without getting an electrical permit or an exception from city of Ashland sign code rules. He also did not get permission from the Oregon Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the overpass.

Haines met with ODOT and city of Ashland officials on Thursday.

ODOT officials invited city of Ashland officials to submit a letter to the state agency by Thursday, Sept. 20, offering support for the mural project and stating the city wants to begin a state permit process that could have allowed the paintings to stay.

Without city support, ODOT officials said the murals, lights and interpretive signs would have to come down by Sept. 30.

But in discussions among City Administrator Martha Bennett, Mayor John Morrison and Permit Center Manager Adam Hanks on Friday, it became clear the city was not willing to lend its support to the project, at least for now.

"No, we're not interested in the (ODOT) permit process at this time with the current installation," Hanks said. "They'll have to come down by Sept. 30. Lloyd has decided what is appropriate public art. We would be adopting his vision. That is not how community decisions are made."

The Ashland Public Arts Commission is in the midst of creating a draft Public Arts Master Plan for the city.

Commissioners are drafting recommendations for changes to the city's sign code, which some residents consider to be overly restrictive about murals.

Hanks said the city needs to address its sign code issues before lending support for a project that violates the current sign code.

"Lloyd trying to jump start it in this way I don't think will speed things up," Hanks said.

Haines said he wished city officials would have been willing to work with ODOT to get the state agency's permission for the project.

"ODOT was accommodating. But there are too many ruffled feathers in the city right now," he said. "It was short notice for the city, though. The art will come down and we'll see what happens. Maybe I will be able to find another place for it."

Haines said he regrets putting city officials in a difficult situation by putting up the murals without going through the official process of seeking an exception to the sign code. But he said he believes his actions drew attention to the sign code's limitations.

"The point of what this was all about was to call this ordinance into question. If I had gone through the whole arduous path and asked the city to scoot around its own sign ordinance, that wouldn't have brought this whole issue forward," Haines said.

ODOT District Manager Eryca McCartin said Haines will need to take down the valuable murals himself, but he or ODOT workers can take down the lights and signs.

ODOT would charge him to remove any items.

ODOT has set up a charge account for Haines to pay for repair costs and engineering investigations. The amount he will be charged is unknown at this time, McCartin said.

Hanks said the city does not have provisions for charging people for staff time spent on code enforcement work. City officials have not decided if Haines will be cited and fined for the illegal installation, although it remains a possibility.

Haines estimated the mural project cost about $40,000, including commissions to four local artists, lighting and installation.

Although ODOT had invited the city to state its support for the mural project going through the state permit process, ODOT officials still had a variety of concerns about the project, McCartin said.

Those concerns included the structural integrity of the bridge, the safety of pedestrians walking below the overhead murals in case the artwork fell, and the safety of ODOT inspectors and bridge maintenance crews, she said.

The panels block the areas where inspectors need to examine the bridge. ODOT also did not get plans for the electrical installation, she said.

Haines said he could have removed the panels for inspections.

ODOT has a standard permit process for anyone who wants to hang something on a state bridge, such as a public utility installing water lines. Submitted plans are analyzed by engineers, who usually attach conditions, McCartin said.

She said ODOT does not have imminent concerns about the project's safety.

McCartin said the city of Ashland can approach ODOT in the future about the mural project.

The Ashland Public Arts Commission and Ashland City Council are tentatively scheduled to hold a study session about the draft Public Arts Master Plan in November.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

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